It’s Sunday night and I have an unexpected and somewhat unwelcome day off tomorrow, so instead of playing a little catch-up, I’m here, indulging in a bit of procrastination. I say “somewhat unwelcome” because this was clearly unplanned and I have three big things in motion at work right now, and having to eat a day of time off is not really helping that. Hence why I’m on the computer after the kids are in bed: attempting to make up a bit of that missed time and stay on top of things. I’ve hit a wall, though, and need to recharge my own batteries, so it’s bloggin’ time!
I’ve got 8 months left of TTMs to cover here, so let’s take that down a notch. I suppose if I wrote less, then I’d have less to cover – but then I’d have less fun doing this, and you’d have less things to peruse! May brought in another eight returns, with some fun names – and funny names – among the bunch.
Sam McDowell: 3/3, 56 days.
May started off with a stellar return from Sudden Sam, who was an absolute terror on the mound. In the 6 seasons from 1965-1970, Sam McDowell led the league in strikeouts 5 times, and led the majors overall the last 3 of those seasons. He fanned 1652 batters in that span – an average of 275 per year, and earned 5 of his 6 All-Star selections. If you tack on ’64 and ’71, McDowell hits 2021 strikeouts in just 7 seasons. He was absolutely robbed of the 1970 AL Cy Young Award, coming in third place as he won 20 games and put up 7.9 bWAR – third overall in baseball behind Bob Gibson (10.1) and Carl Yastrzemski (9.5), and well in front of AL Cy Young winner Jim Perry (4.5) and runner-up Dave McNally (4.2). Sam looks like a total badass on the strikeout leaders card, and his 1973 is a real fun action shot. I had him in my pile when I was piecing together my Sportlots order at the beginning of the year, so I made sure to pick up his awesome 1993 Upper Deck All-Time Heroes triple folder as well. His signature looks fantastic and I think all three of these came out great.
Bobby Witt: 4/4, 7 days
Look, it’s baseball star Bobby Witt! No, not that one, this is his dad – ol’ Witt and Wild. Bobby Sr. was a top draft pick as well, and when his son made the majors in 2021 they edged out the Grieves for the highest drafted father-son duo to make the major leagues. The Witts went 2 & 3, while the Grieves went 2 & 6. You know I love a good baseball family man, and I had plenty of junk wax dupes of Bobby hanging around. It’ll probably be a while before I can add Junior’s autograph to complete the duo, though.
Dick Billings: 2/2, 11 days
Yes indeed, we have reached the Isle of Naughty Names. I find it somewhat telling that Dick Billings signs his name “Rich” instead of what’s advertised on the cards. Dick had a really interesting career, converting to catcher in AAA because he was told it would be an easier route to more playing time. He went on to catch Jim Bibby’s no-hitter in 1973. His SABR Bio is a great read, and I pored through it before dashing off my letter. Billings put down thoughtful and thorough responses to my questions, as well as thanking me and signing the letter.
Q: What are your favorite memories from your career?
A: Playing in Fenway Park & Yankee Stadium, & catching Jim Bibby’s no-hitter.
Q: What was it like to play for Ted Williams?
A: He was the most knowledgable person I met regarding hitting. Dynamic personality and an icon of the game.
Q: How difficult was it to learn how to catch? Who helped you make that change?
A: The coaches, Nellie Fox & Wayne Terwilliger, suggested I learn to catch if I wanted to play in the big leagues. A back-up catcher could hang around for a few years.
Q: What do you enjoy most about baseball?
A: Just how big and good the players of this age really are.
Q: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in baseball?
A: The last game we played in RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. The fans came on the field & the game was a forfeit.*
*Here’s the Washington Post column from that game!
Frank Johnson: 1/1, 12 days
We’ll cruise away from the Isle of Naughty Names, but not before having a run-in with Frank Johnson, on a superb looking barrel card from 1971 Topps. This was just too good to pass up. I think I first found Frank via Infield Fly Girl. When I saw that he was an active TTM respondent, I made sure to find a nice piece of vintage cardboard to send his way, via that Sportlots order I mentioned earlier. This is a great barrel card. Frank is currently nestled in the binder among the likes of Dick Billings, Dick Sharon, and Craig Skok.
Felix Millan: 2/2, 11 days
I feel like I pulled this ’74 out of my dupes and put it in the TTM pile two or three years ago, when I was looking for more folks to write. I finally got it out the door in May, along with this great Senior League card from the 1989 T&M Sports set, and it made its way back fairly quickly. Félix the Cat was a good ballplayer – a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner at second base, but his career was cut short after an altercation at second base with Ed Ott.
George Mitterwald: 1/1, 7 days
Sometimes you see enough people post a return featuring a damn fine signature and you think to yourself, I really need to write that person already! That’s how George Mitterwald first got on my TTM radar – that’s a beauty of a signature! It didn’t hurt that I had a spare copy of his wonderful 1972 Topps card, either – a fine catcher card with its iconic psychedelic frame, plenty of stuff in the background, and some bonafide stirrups!
Carmen Fanzone: 1/1, 9 days
Carmen spent five years as a utility player, debuting in 1970 with the Red Sox before shifting to the Cubs. He played a mixture of third, first, and second base, with plenty of pinch hitting duties sprinkled in there. 1974 would be his final season in the majors, but Fanzone would go on to a secondary career which saw him continue performing in front of crowds as he entered the world of jazz. This one is a really nice looking signature as well!
Dennis Eckersley: 2/2, 7 days (with fee)
I saved the big name from May for last. Eck left the broadcast booth following the 2022 season, and somewhere in there he decided to start dutifully answering his mail, for a very modest fee. When I saw this, I immediately hauled out his cards and agonized over which two offerings to send him. The 1981 Fleer was a no-brainer, given my work on the set. The other options gave me a lot of pause – his 1976 rookie card was a runner-up, as was his lovely horizontal 1993 Topps issue. I’ve forgotten what else was under consideration, but there were a couple others. In the end, I decided upon this 1995 Skybox Emotion card from another set I have loved for a looooong time. I remember riding my bike to the card shop as an 11-year-old and buying my first pack of these. That pack was actually a small box, with a wrapped pack inside of it – they were fancy and expensive and the second I saw them I fell for them hard. When I got back into collecting almost a decade ago, one of the first things I hunted down was a hobby box of these. I love Eck’s issue, with his trademark squint and his flowing locks, and the green and gold of the Athletics makes for a real sharp card. I was very happy to find this one in the mailbox!
So that’s a pair of names to chuckle about, a strikeout king, a HOFer, a baseball dad, and a few more lovely signatures in the bunch – and of course, my lovely 1981 Fleer found its way in there as well. May’s returns packed a nice little punch! I’ll sign off now and try to get just a bit more work done. Here’s hoping y’all have a good week.